Text: Edgar Allan Poe to Joseph Evans Snodgrass — April 1, 1841 (LTR-109)


Philadelphia, April 1, 1841.

My Dear Snodgrass —

I fear you have been thinking it was not my design to answer your kind letter at all. It is now April Fool's Day, and yours is dated March 8th; but believe me, although, for good reason, I may occasionally postpone my reply to your favors, I am never in danger of forgetting them.

I am much obliged to you for permitting me to hand over your essay to Mr. Graham. It will appear in the June number. In order to understand this apparent delay, you must be informed that we go to press at a singularly early period. The May number is now within two days of being ready for delivery to the mails. I should be pleased to receive a brief notice of Soran's poems for the June number — if you chink this will not be too late.

In regard to Burton. I feel indebted to you for the kind interest you express; but scarcely know how to reply. My situation is embarrassing. It is impossible, as you say, to notice a buffoon and a felon, as one gentleman would notice another. The law, then, is my only resource. Now, if the truth of a scandal could be admitted in justification — I mean of what the law terms a scandal — I would have matters all my own way. I would institute a suit, forthwith, for his personal defamation of myself. He would be unable to prove the truth of his allegations. I could prove their falsity and their malicious intent by witnesses who, seeing me at all hours of every day, would have the best right to speak — I mean Burton's own clerk, Morrell, and the compositors of the printing office. In fact, I could prove the scandal almost by acclamation. I should obtain damages. But, on the other hand, I have never been scrupulous in regard to what I have said of him. I have always told him to his face, and everybody else, that I looked upon him as a blackguard and a villain. This is notorious. He would meet me with a cross action. The truth of the allegation — which I could easily prove as he would find it difficult to prove the truth of his own respecting me — would not avail me. The law will not admit, as justification of my calling Billy Burton a scoundrel, that Billy Burton is really such. What then can I do? If I sue, he sues; you see how it is.

At the same time — as I may, after further reflection, be induced to sue, I would take it as an act of kindness — not to say justice — on your part, if you would see the gentleman of whom you spoke, and ascertain with accuracy all that may legally avail me; that is to say, what and when were the words used, and whether your friend would be willing for your sake, for my sake, and for the sake of truth, to give evidence if called upon. Will you do this for me?

So far for the matter inasmuch as it concerns Burton. I have now to thank you for your defence of myself, as stated. You are a physician, and I presume no physician can have difficulty in detecting the drunkard at a glance. You are, moreover, a literary man, well read in morals. You will never be brought to believe that I could write what I daily write, as I write it, were I as this villain would induce those who know me not, to believe. In fine, I pledge you, before God, the solemn word of a gentleman, that I am temperate even to rigor. From the hour in which I first saw this basest of calumniators to the hour in which I retired from his office in uncontrollable disgust at his chicanery, arrogance, ignorance and brutality, nothing stronger than water ever passer my lips.

It is, however, due to candor that I inform you upon what foundation he has erected his slanders. At no period of my life was I ever what men call intemperate. I never was in the habit of intoxication. I never drunk drams, &c. But, for a brief period, while I resided in Richmond, and edited the Messenger, I certainly did give way, at long intervals, to the temptation held out on all sides by the spirit of Southern conviviality. My sensitive temperament could not stand an excitement which was an everyday matter to my companions. In short, it sometimes happened that I was completely intoxicated. For some days after each excess I was invariably confined to bed. But it is now quiet four years since I have abandoned every kind of alcoholic drink — four years, with the exception of a single deviation, which occurred shortly after my leaving Burton, and when I was induced to resort to the occasional use of cider, with the hope of relieving a nervous attack. You will thus see, frankly stated, the whole amount of my sin. You will also see the blackness of that heart which could revive a slander of this nature. Neither can you fail to perceive how desperate the malignity of the slanderer must be — how resolute he must be to slander, and how slight the grounds upon which he would build up a defamation — since he can find nothing better with which to charge me than an accusation which can be disproved by each and every man with whom I am in the habit of daily intercourse.

I have now only to repeat to you, in general, my solemn assurance that my habits are as far removed from intemperance as the day from the night. My sole drink is water.

Will you do me the kindness to repeat this assurance to such of your friends as happen to speak of me in your hearing?

I feel that nothing more is requisite, and you will agree with me upon reflection.

Hoping soon to hear from you, I am,

Yours most cordially,
Edgar A. Poe.

P.S. — You will receive the magazine, as a matter of course. I had supposed that you were already on our free list.

P.P.S. — The Penn, I hope, is only “scotched, not killed.” It would have appeared under glorious auspices, and with capital at command, in March, as advertised, but for the unexpected bank suspensions. In the meantime, Mr. Graham has made me a liberal offer, which I had great pleasure in accepting. The Penn project will unquestionably be resumed hereafter.

Dr. J. E. Snodgrass.





[S:0 - MS, 18xx] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Works - Letters - Poe to J. E. Snodgrass (LTR109/RCL275)